What to do Before You Apply for Financial Aid

Dear College Made Simple reader,

When you sit down with your student to begin the college admissions process, it’s a safe bet that you’ll be able to come up with a list of questions a mile long.

Many of those questions can be answered with a tour of the campus…  Some by having meetings with professors… And some by doing a little good old fashioned research.

But as I’m sure you already know, many of the most important questions of all revolve around one thing – money.

More specifically; financial aid.  It’s one of the most important facets of the college planning process and it’s critical that you have good, accurate information before you apply for it.

So, in addition to getting all your applications in accurately and on-time, make sure to stack the cards in your favor by asking these 8 vital questions of the financial aid officer at each college or university…



The 8 Things Every Family Should Know BEFORE Applying for Financial Aid

Question #1 – Does your school guarantee to meet 100% of my child’s financial need at your school, and if not, what percentage of need does your school meet for the average student?

Most schools do not meet 100% of a student’s financial need.  It is important for you to know this information, in advance, before your child spends time and money applying to a particular school that will NEVER be able to give you the money you need to send your child to that college.

Question #2 – Does your school have a standard “unmet need” formula for students who apply for financial aid?

If a school says “Yes,” you want to know by how much they leave the average student short. For example, if your child has a need of $10,000 at a school and they have an average “unmet need” of 50%, they will probably only award you $5,000, and ask you to come up with the other $5,000 on your own.

Make sure you find this out before you apply; it could end up saving you a lot of time and money!

Question #3 – Does your school have a ceiling on the maximum amount of financial aid a student can qualify for?

Some schools have maximum ceilings of $5,000 per student.  If this turns out to be the case, and you are eligible to receive $10,000 – you’re out of luck.

what you might not know about financial aid

Question #4 – If my financial need remains the same for the next 4 years, will my child receive the same financial aid package in years 2, 3, and 4 at your school?

Some schools will award students a great package the first year to attract them to go to their school.

Then, in years 2, 3, and 4, they offer them a much lower package even though their financial need is the same, since the school knows there is a very slim likelihood that the student will transfer after they’ve already attended that college for 1 year.

Make sure you find out their policy on this beforehand…

Question #5 – If my family’s financial need increases in year 2 at your college, will your financial aid package be adjusted accordingly, or will it remain the same?

Some schools will not adjust a student’s financial aid package after the first year.

This becomes a serious problem especially if the family’s income drops in the later years of college.

You must know this up front, so you won’t have to make a tough decision later.

Question #6 – If my child doesn’t apply for financial aid in his/her freshman year of college, can he/she apply for aid in future years?

In some cases, it may make sense for you not to apply for aid for the freshman year, especially if you haven’t done the proper planning and your financial assets are in the wrong places; i.e., spots where the  schools will count them against your Expected Family Contribution.

However, some schools have policies of giving priority consideration to students at the school who are already receiving financial aid.

If this is the school’s policy, you may be shut out from getting financial aid for all 4 years.

Find this out before you apply!

Question #7 – Does your school have a “cut-off” date for guaranteeing that a student will receive financial aid?

If they do, make sure you get your financial aid forms in before their cut-off date, or there’s a good chance you won’t get any financial aid.  Financial aid often times is first come – first serve.  Plan ahead and get your application in early!

Question #8 – What is your school’s policy on packaging outside scholarships into a financial aid award package?

Some schools will replace the FREE money you found with FREE money they were going to award you.  So, in effect, you gain nothing by finding an outside scholarship.

Other schools will allow the outside scholarship to replace the loan money they were going to give you.  Obviously, it’s better if they replace loan money rather than FREE money.

Make sure you find out each school’s policy before you apply.

Ensuring you receive the maximum amount of financial aid possible for your student comes down to several key things – a timely application, a flexible school and a smart and effective management of your family’s finances.

Being late with your application, ending up stuck at a school with rigid rules on aid, or failing to bring your EFC down as low as legally possible for your specific situation can be mistakes that damage your financial well being for years.

In the meantime, remember to ask these 8 questions before applying to a college.  They could end up saving you a ton of time, money, and frustration.

To your college funding & admissions success,

Scott Weingold

Co-Founder, College Planning Network LLC

Publisher, CollegeMadeSimple.com – The free educational resource of College Planning Network

Related Articles:

How Does FAFSA Determine Eligibility?

FAFSA Frequently Asked Questions

How to Get Maximum Money for College


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Editor's Note: Scott Weingold has been ranked the #1 “College Financial Aid Expert Worth Knowing About” in the entire country by CollegeStats.org.  He has co-authored the book, “The Real Secret To Paying For College. The Insider’s Guide To Sending Your Child To College – Without Spending Your Life’s Savings.” Scott also publishes a popular free online newsletter, “College Funding Made Simple" which reveals insider’s tips, methods, and strategies for beating the high cost of college.

Scott is the co-founder and a principal of the widely renown College Planning Network, LLC – the nation’s largest and most reputable college admissions and financial aid planning firm. CPN is a proud member of the Better Business Bureau, the National Association of College Funding Advisors, the National Association for College Admission Counseling, the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators and the Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education.

Scott, along with his college funding advisory team, helps thousands of families throughout the country with their college planning needs and offers a series of free educational webinars and workshops on “How To Pay For College Without Going Broke In The Process!” He's been featured or mentioned in The Philadelphia Inquirer, Yahoo News, TheStreet.com, Voice America with Ron Adams, Crains Cleveland Business, and on Cleveland Connection with James McIntyre.  Scott has published numerous articles and is a professional speaker who has addressed thousands of audiences online and offline throughout the United States.  His actionable insights and candid, open approach have earned him & his team numerous media interviews, citations, and speaking opportunities, and his free online video workshop is one of the Internet’s most widely viewed pieces in the college funding space.